Bhubaneswar: Around ten days ago, a pall of gloom fell surrounded Indian athletics as news broke that star sprinter Dutee Chand had tested positive for banned substances.
The Asian Games silver medallist had been in her native village when she got the news. A hundred kilometres away from the nearest post office then, she had nothing to do but to make some alarmed phone calls.
Dutee has returned to the capital city since then, resuming her training. Having had time to reflect on the news for the past few days, she has also charted her road ahead.
“I will not give up. Everything I have is due to sports. My parents always wanted me to do well for my country. I don’t know anything apart from sports,” she told The Bridge.
The athletic stadium of KIIT, Bhubaneswar where Dutee is stationed currently.
“I have everyone supporting me, from my parents to my team. Everyone is ready to help me and fight for my right,” she said.
The team Dutee has gathered around her over the years know her as the toughest fighter they have ever known. Her right to compete in international sports had been questioned right at the start of her career. She had fought that battle in international courts, won, and returned as a rare world-class sprinter from the Indian subcontinent.
A few years later, she set an example for bravery to be emulated for years when she came out as a queer athlete after the Supreme Court decriminalised same-sex marriages in the country.
Now again, at the age of 26, Dutee might be looking at a lengthy battle to clear her name.
“I was removed from the team in the 2014 Commonwealth Games on the basis of high testosterone levels. I fought that decision in an international court and won it. I came back to make India proud. I will do it again,” Dutee said.
“When that decision had been announced, everybody started seeing me as a boy, but I didn’t give up,” she added.
When Dutee had been booted out of the sport almost a decade ago due to hyperandrogenism, on the suspicion that her high testosterone levels gave her an unfair advantage, she had decided to fight it out in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against IAAF and AFI, and won. While many others would have quietly left the sport, Dutee refused to go away.
She made a famous comeback to the sport in 2016 post that fiasco and won two silver medals in the 2018 Asian Games.
A crucial wait for B sample result
While Dutee’s hyperandrogenism episode offered social activists a golden opportunity to jump into the intersectionality of sports and gender, there had not been any indications of cheating or doping. The site of the athlete’s body was the focal point of the debate and Dutee did commendably in holding on to her rights.
“I feel that it’s wrong to have to change your body for sport participation. I’m not changing for anyone,” she had said eight years ago.
This time, however, the stakes are different. Her fight had been a unique one then. This time, it is sadly too common. Doping has been very prevalent in the Indian sporting ecosystem, and it is so ingrained that India takes one of the podium positions in the world when it comes to countries with the most doping cases.
Dutee’s explanations on how she could have landed in the doping controversy this time, also, is something very common.
“I have never done anything extra. All my supplements are on the advice of my nutritionist. I have no idea what doping is. My doubt is that while nursing my injury, my doctor might have suggested some medicine to me which could be banned,” she claimed.
“I have never tested positive in any earlier competition,” the 26-year-old added.
Dutee’s tested sample A was indeed taken out-of-competition by NADA. Whenever a doping test is conducted, two samples are collected – A and B. Sample B gives the chance to an athlete to lodge an appeal if sample A returns any adverse findings.
Dutee said, “After consulting my team, I have already sent sample B for testing and we will know clearly what happened. I was quite scared after hearing the news and I received the document after 5 days. My legal team asked me to not worry unless B Sample is also positive.”
Dutee’s A sample has been analysed with three different prohibited substances. The wait for the crucial B sample has now started.
Road Ahead for Dutee
Dutee has been around the international circuit for some time now and with injuries hampering her progress and doping charges, the future does not look good for the 26-year-old.
“I will fight this case first and I want to perform till I am able to. I want to give my 100 percent and my focus is right now on the Asian Games,” she said.
About her post-athletics career plan, Dutee said, “I want to establish a speed academy that will train kids for 100m and 200m sprints as India has never done well in these disciplines. I will train kids to win international medals for India.”
Could Dutee’s B sample save her, or will the career of one of the country’s most celebrated athletes end in a cloud of shame?